November 25, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
Artistic Director Michael Kahn, collaborating with the Seattle-based 5th Avenue Theatre for a new production of The Secret Garden at the Sidney Harman Hall, introduces area audiences to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s enchanting tale of a garden that comes to life out of the ashes of tragedy and despair. It is one of the most beloved children’s tales ever written by the British-born Burnett, who wrote fifty-three novels, including Little Lord Fauntleroy, and thirteen plays, becoming a successful writer as a teenager while living in, of all places, Knoxville, Tennessee.
But despite a difficult childhood in England, Burnett never forgot the rose-filled English gardens, that had brought her peace and pleasure. The classic story is also her personal story of overcoming personal pain and adversity through the healing power of nature and the perseverance of love.
Since its first publication in 1910, this Gothic tale has been produced in over a dozen film and television productions, at last brought to the stage in 1991 by composers/lyricists, Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon, who won three Tony Awards for this sweeping musical.
Directed by David Armstrong, it tells the story of Mary Lennox, raised in India during the days of the Raj and orphaned by the ravages of cholera. The child is sent to live in a creepy manor home in Yorkshire with her two uncles – the melancholy uncle Archibald Craven (Michael Xavier), still grieving the death of his adored wife Lily (Lizzie Klemperer), and his ill-intentioned brother, Neville (Josh Young). It’s Tim Burton on a chill pill meets Martha Stewart and a panoply of faeries and ghosts.
Little Mary (Anya Rothman), who is a proper hellion, is told to stay in her room, but instead she wanders the dark halls of Misselthwaite Manor discovering her bed-ridden hypochondriac cousin Colin and a neglected secret garden. Her friendship with the equally recalcitrant Colin (Henry Baratz), Dickon (Charlie Franklin) Martha’s brother and gardener’s helper, her governess Martha (Daisy Eagan, who won a Tony for her role as Mary in the original production 25 years ago) and the wise older gardener Ben Weatherstaff (Sean G. Griffin) assuage her despair and send her into a fantasy world of sprites and fauns and the spirits of Indian fakirs and dead relatives, some of whom reappear as a Greek chorus.
Rothman, a near weightless sprite herself, tackles the difficult role like a pro – singing, dancing and acting as if born to perform. She is backed up by seasoned performers with gorgeous voices, most especially Klemperer in “India” and Xavier and Young whose exquisite tenor voices duet in the “Lily’s Eyes”.
Look for the adorable, spot on comic timing and clear-as-a-bell soprano voice of Henry Baratz who appears towards the end of Act One. He is especially appealing in his second act duet with his late mother, Lily, in “Come to My Garden – Lift Me Up”.
Lighting Designer Mike Baldassari effectively uses poison green and purple lighting to illuminate Scenic Designer Anna Louizos’s two-story Gothic house and a thirteen-piece orchestra led by Rick Fox play twenty-four numbers.
Recommended for the whole family.
At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre through January 8th 2017 at 450 7th Street, NW Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.